Under-the-radar pitching options Padres could consider

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The 2021 MLB Trade Deadline is quickly approaching, and the San Diego Padres have already begun making moves to solidify their team heading into the final stretch of the season. 

Word began circulating Sunday afternoon, following a 9-3 Padres’ loss in Miami, that the team had reportedly traded for Pittsburgh Pirates’ All-Star infielder Adam Frazier.  The deal was officially announced Monday, giving the Padres four All-Star infield options while also providing manager Jayce Tingler and the team added defensive flexibility.

“Part of the conversation with Adam himself was, be ready for left and right field, and then be ready to come off the bench.  We’re trying to do something as an organization that we’ve never done before: win a World Series.  It’s going to take a little bit of sacrifice, but we have a lot of guys in that clubhouse and that room that are looking to win,” said general manager A.J. Preller when asked about what to expect from Frazier as a Padre in 2021.

Obviously, the trade gives the Padres an upgrade on offense and defense (two top-three Gold Glove finishes at second base), but there are still plenty of questions surrounding the team’s pitching.  The starting pitching has been unpredictable outside of Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, with injuries and inconsistencies plaguing the rotation since April.

The San Diego bullpen, which early on carried the team through rough stretches, continues to lead the world in innings pitched and has obvious needs for reinforcements.  The interesting question, though, is what kind of reinforcements are most effective for one of the best bullpens in baseball.  

Some high-end names have been mentioned in trade rumors involving San Diego, such as Cubs’ closer Craig Kimbrel, Nationals’ starter Max Scherzer, and Twins’ starter Jose Berrios.  All three options would give relief to the Padres’ bullpen in different ways. Kimbrel would join the bullpen and add depth and strength, while Scherzer and Berrios would be added to help the rotation, which would also help the bullpen with the assumption that quality starts increasing.

While the big names like Scherzer, Kimbrel, and Berrios would provide a major boost to any team, they will also cost an interested suitor a handsome sum.  The Padres have plenty of depth in their farm system to withstand the loss of one or two top-end prospects in order to make a run at an A-list piece, but there are plenty of cheaper options that would still provide an immediate upgrade.

One option that would upgrade San Diego’s pitching is former Padre Ian Kennedy.  Kennedy, 36, has been a standout as the Rangers closer in 2021, converting 15 of 16 save opportunities while posting a 2.59 ERA, a 4.71 K/BB rate, and a 1.085 WHIP in 31.1 innings.  

Contract-wise, the veteran righty makes sense with his contract set to expire after the season.  This, along with his age, should lead to a comparatively more attractive asking price by the Rangers. 

Kennedy as a successful closer option would bolster the back end of the Padres’ bullpen and give the team stronger options to send out in mid-relief.  With Drew Pomeranz building his strength after injuries, Emilio Pagan still finding consistency, and Matt Strahm yet to make a rehab appearance, Kennedy would provide a veteran arm with successful numbers, alleviating some of the pressure for the bullpen to fill their typical spots prematurely. 

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The Miami Marlins sit eleven games out of first place and seem to be prime candidates to sell pieces that don’t make sense going into 2022.  Richard Bleier, a 34-year-old left-handed reliever with strong career numbers, would make an interesting addition to the Padres’ bullpen.  In 38.1 innings this season, Bleier has a 2.82 ERA to go along with a mind-blowing strikeout to walk ratio of 29 to 2 and a 0.861 WHIP.

Adding a left-handed arm to the bullpen might be a smart move for a San Diego team with just two left-handed bullpen options, one of whom (Pomeranz) is still finding his form post-injury.  Bleier, along with Kennedy, are veteran arms that would provide depth for a Padres’ team in need while not clogging the future payroll. 

Another route the Padres could go, one which seems to be a popular position amongst fans and insiders alike, would be starting pitching help for the Padres that would, in theory, give the bullpen help by way of increased quality starts.  Scherzer, Danny Duffy of the Royals, and Jon Gray of the Rockies have been mentioned in reports and rumors, but all come with a caveat.  Scherzer’s price tag, Duffy’s health, and Berrios’ inexperience combined with health make them all uncertain risks that will likely require coveted returns.

Michael Pineda, however, would be a cheaper option as a starting pitcher and could have an impact as any one of the bigger names.  Pineda is a seasoned professional at this point in his career, with the chance to make some big starts at the back of the San Diego rotation, with little pressure to be “the guy.”  

With respectable numbers in 2021 (3.86 ERA, 64 K, 1.189 WHIP in 72.1 IP), Pineda would be a veteran addition for the back of the rotation with a chance to make a difference down the stretch.  He also would be an excellent option for a playoff start if needed. A luxury San Diego could have used a season ago.

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The question marks surrounding the San Diego rotation stem from many internal issues, including Blake Snell and Chris Paddack lacking consistency and Dinelson Lamet struggling to stay healthy.  For San Diego’s front office to assume they will all find themselves at the perfect time would be foolish, making a starting pitcher a logical idea in the search for trade partners.  

If the Padres were to acquire a Scherzer from Washington or a Berrios from Minnesota, they would absolutely put themselves in the best possible position to win right now.  There are, however, other options and scenarios that could lead to the team winning in 2021, making Friday’s deadline and the subsequent 60 games all the more intriguing.

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